What the Graphic Design Profession Looks Like to a Child

I remember an old joke from college: “If your chosen career isn’t depicted in a Richard Scarry book as an anthropomorphic dog or cat, then it’s probably not all that essential to society”.

When it came time to pick a major, the joke lingered and seemed less funny; I don’t recall ever seeing any graphic designers in Busytown…

Fast forward 15 years later…

At the 2013 AIGA Leadership Retreat in Philadelphia this past May, one of the breakout sessions involved ways to make AIGA more relevant for its next 100 years (the organization, founded in 1914 will be celebrating its centennial in 2014).

Taking Ric Grefé’s idea of repositioning designers away from the margins of their community and closer to the center, we took a look at what the core function of society is: the rearing of children.

Examining this idea further it occurred to me that at a very basic and fundamental level, professions that we hold to be the very core of our social fabric, the archetypes of them are often ingrained at a very early age: Doctor, Police Officer, Fire Fighter, Farmer, toddlers are often able to intuitively grasp these adult role and internalize them intrinsically in their play activity.

The question for me became very simple and distilled: “What does graphic design, as a profession, look like to a child?”

If a child saw a graphic designer, would he or she recognize what it is they do, their role in a broader community? If a graphic designer were to appear in a children’s book would this seem foreign or familiar to a small child?  Was there an opportunity here to visually market ourselves to a future generation of thinkers? To get in on the ground floor?

Immediately the idea appealed to me because as a designer, we struggle daily with broad segments of society not really understanding what it is we do, and the value of what we do. From clients, to friends and family, the strategic business value of design can be elusive and hard to articulate (although I think the business world is fast catching on to the value of design). On the flip side, as graphic designers, we devote a good portion of our professional lives visually communicating the value of what other people do, their goods and services.

With that initial idea in play I approached several designer/illustrator friends I knew and asked them to illustrate nine archetype professions that would be recognizable to small children and for the tenth had them tackle “Designer” as a profession. The goal here was to establish a baseline interpretation of careers and professions for small kids and to make a subtle conversational shift to include graphic designers into that mix.

Below is the first batch of illustrations from a good friend, Moni Yael Garcia. When I first received them I loaded the illustrations to my iPad and showed them to my three year old daughter and asked her to identify each person she saw. Without missing a beat, she was able to identify each of the first nine illustrations, who they were and what it was that they did; “Astronaut, they fly in space!” “Zookeeper, they feed and take care of the animals in the zoo!” “Doctor, he makes people feel better!”

When she got to the last illustration, she paused for a second and simply said “That’s you daddy!”

It’s a start…

Mail Carrier
Fire Fighter
Police Officer
Graphic Designer

Illustrations by Moni Yael Garcia, 2013

To view the entire illustration set.


By John Luu
Published October 14, 2013
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